ABDOMINAL CD release party with CIRCLE RESEARCH, NOTES TO SELF, ELIZABETH SHEPHERD, DJ FASE, KORRY DEEZ, ALINI MORALES and JUSTIS at Supermarket (268 Augusta), Friday (May 18), 10 pm. $8. 19+. 416-840-0501. Rating: NNNNN
It's being called the solo debut of Toronto hiphop MC Abdominal, but the stellar Escape From The Pigeon Hole (Do Right!) is actually all about collaboration. In fact, many more hands are involved in this project than anything else featuring the fly antics of the exceptionally skilled microphone ace.
Beyond the production expertise of long-time local scene pals Fase, Serious and Circle Research, our boy Abs is rhyming himself ragged over some insanely funky beats provided by Brit digger deluxe DJ Format, the Ugly Duckling's Young Einstein and Jurassic Five's Cut Chemist, in between some sinister scratching from DMC world champ DJ Dopey - essentially just about everyone he's met since 98 plus most of his MySpace friends.
And working with close allies was important to Abdominal. He wasn't looking to hire pricey celebrity producers or high-profile guest rappers. He's kept it in the family, which has paid off big time on Escape From The Pigeon Hole, a disc that maintains a consistent upbeat vibe despite the numerous collaborators.
"I'd met so many really talented people in my travels," says Abs sipping tea in a Little Italy cafe, "I knew that when it came time to do my own project I wanted to have the whole crowd involved, with all their different energies. Format and Fase have been my two main collaborators, so they had to be there, but I've also become friends with Cut Chemist and Einstein on tour, and of course there's a whole bunch of my Toronto people like Circle Research and Serious I had to have with me. It just felt like the natural way to work."
Considering how difficult it can be just getting Cut Chemist on the phone - trust me, I've tried - having him create the bumpin' soundtrack to the hilarious Radio Friendly joint was a coup for Abs. Evidently, it didn't come together as smoothly as the seamless head-nodder sounds.
"Cut Chemist is definitely difficult to peg down. So unlike a lot of the other producers involved who just send me beats they think I might like when they've got them, regardless of whether I have a project in mind or not, I had to be way more proactive with Chemist.
"He asked me to rhyme on a track for his record and said he'd come up with some beats for me in return. I wound up chasing him for six months. Eventually, he sent me one beat and that was it - I could either use it not - but fortunately I really liked it. So I recorded my rhymes over his rough loop and sent that back to him so he could do some sequencing and sync the drumbeats to the lyrics, and the finished product I got back was totally amazing. Well worth the effort."
Among the album's great successes is the Toronto shout-out T.Ode, in which Abs manages to celebrate his hometown neighbourhood by neighbourhood without it coming off like some cheesy municipal-government-sponsored tourism commercial. And doing that with an introduction from Mayor David Miller just makes the feat that much more impressive.
"From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do some kind of song about Toronto and work with Notes to Self, although I didn't have them in mind necessarily for that track. It just happened that their producer, Bronze, came up with this great beat that perfectly fit the spirit of what I wanted to say about Toronto. The Notes to Self guys grew up in a different part of town, so we divvied up the territory between us; they could rhyme about the east end while I covered more of the west end neighbourhoods.
"Doing what I do, I've had the opportunity to travel to some incredible places and had many great experiences, but toward the end of every tour I can't wait to get back to Toronto. It might not be as picturesque or as rich in history as some of the other great cities of the world, but it's my history. I grew up here, my family and friends are here. I just love this town and am proud to be from Toronto.
"So far, the song has been very well received here, but I'm not sure how a pro-Toronto anthem will go over with audiences in Vancouver or Montreal. I may have to come up with an alternate version where I'm big-upping Le 514!"
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Abdominal discusses the challenge of recording and performing the personally revealing Open Relationship with his ex Elizabeth Sheppard
Why Abdominal will never perform the physically demanding Breathe Later in concert